By August Edwards
This year, ten local musical acts performed cover sets of non-local acts in front of cameras for a special, COVID-conscious home streaming of Launchpad’s annual Night of the Living Cover Bands. The virtual event clocked in at just over three hours long, and it still gave a good taste of a live show in its snappy and punchy one-take allure.
Covers are some of my favorite songs. They make me feel connected to the cover artists, who, in their undeniable talent, could very well be geeking out on something great just like me.
There are a few distinct qualities of covers and cover shows. At the top of the list is this – singalongability. This is not a word, but it’s a scientific scale. Original songs that rank high on the singalongability scale include “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen and “Africa” by Toto. Now, I don’t know why those songs plead for people to sing over them, but someone who might be able to take a guess is a drunk person. Along with pre-knowing the words to the songs, people love getting drunk to cover shows for a few reasons: there are no unwelcome surprises, which makes getting drunk more enjoyable; and drunk people love bonding with other drunk people. With that in mind, take this into consideration: generally speaking, artists may choose to cover songs because the songs kick ass and are just outright fun for them to play. Night of the Living Cover Bands is Launchpad’s biggest multi-night event for all of these reasons, and this—you’re gonna get a lot more people to take a chance on your band and watch you play if you’re doing a bunch of songs they already know and probably like.
If that sounds like a weird diss, I assure you, it’s not. It is a testament to the talent in Albuquerque that every year, more and more bands are willing to put together a cover set, dedicating special attention to that on top of their own original work. Last year, Launchpad had six nights of this event, spanning three weekends. I think that regardless of COVID-19, we were in for another significant year.
I’d like to take a second to acknowledge that tribute bands are a phenomenon as well. Los Angeles has a microcosm of tribute bands because there’s a high demand for them (fun read about that here), and demand indicates that these bands can make pretty decent money. They provide a distinct and precious service—if you’re all about live experiences, going to a tribute show is a way of interacting with a band you might not ever get to see perform otherwise.
Someone who’s experienced the high of being in a renowned tribute band is Albuquerque’s own Niko Valdez. In 2018 and 2019, guitarist Valdez played three shows with One, the Metallica tribute band, and through this experience has played to sizable audiences: in Henderson, NV, 4,000 people; in Houston, TX, a sold out crowd of just over 600; and in Detroit Lakes, MN, roughly 12,000 people. This is worthy of noting because not only is it an incredibly cool experience, but for Valdez—who was 19 when he first played with One—it ignited a fire and gave a lasting impression of the pure joy that music creates. The joy created by tribute bands and cover sets and events like Night of the Living Cover Bands is specific and valuable.
For this virtual streaming, Albuquerque musicians chose some of my very favorite bands, some bands I don’t care about, and some in between. For example, I don’t loathe Tom Petty any more than I loathe traffic lights. They come up quite often, but I don’t spend any time thinking about them unless I’m staring at them straight on. However, the Tom Petty set by Adam Hooks & His Pals revitalized my will to listen to a Petty song. Their version of “Last Dance with Mary Jane” was striking, and it was all due to Hooks’s vocals.
Similarly, sometimes I like to pretend Aerosmith doesn’t exist, but only when I remember that they do. But Dust City Opera as Aerosmith is something I don’t want to forget. Paul Hutton’s musically educated voice couldn’t be more different from Steven Tyler’s, but it was good, and an entertaining change of pace.
In contrast to the vocal differences Hutton and Hooks provided, Crystalynn Maestas-Romero truly embodied Amy Winehouse in Burque Sol’s performance. This reggae band kept it tight and soulful, and in a time crunch, too—they hadn’t seen each other for months prior to recording this set.
ABQ’s favorite pop punk band Right On, Kid! covered Weezer. A moment of brutal honesty here, Weezer is in my top five favorite bands—what can I say, the heart wants what it wants. While I don’t think Right On, Kid! showcased any of Weezer’s good qualities, this Weezer sycophant clung to every beat. That’s the beauty of covers, they’re just as much a part of you as they are the cover artist.
Everyone knows "The Boys Are Back in Town" by Thin Lizzy, and it's probably for the same reason that Undying Evil couldn't have made that song un-rock of they tried. Same as Shadow Creeps as The Clash. Punk is punk, these guys knew what they were doing, which is why their rendition of "Death or Glory" was as sensational as any. With a little bit of a twist, Baracutanga as No Doubt killed "Just A Girl," adding their own drum break which wholly enchanted me. Worth noting, it was the first set Baracutanga have ever performed in English.
Abort Abort was notable for their Sia performance because of the addition of a dancer on the Launchpad floor. This would not have been possible under normal circumstances because the dancer really utilized the space. Through their set, I got the sense that Sia meant a lot to Abort Abort, and that made me pay pretty close attention to everything happening.
Barney Lopez emceed as a character he created, Chano, who provided quirky transitions in Burqueño fashion. He filled us in on some history while he introduced the bands. SHREWD made their debut at NotLCB, and you can tell it’s still near and dear to them because of their heartfelt incarnation of System of a Down. Coma Recovery, who covered Nirvana, has performed NotLCB since the event's inception—and what’s NotLCB without a Nirvana cover.
I think covering songs is sort of a vulnerable act, and a form of make believe. A cover doesn’t “have” to be anything. It’s one of the purest forms of sharing music, and it can totally transform your idea about the song.
The best thing that could possibly happen because of this virus (and I’m not exaggerating here) is that Launchpad’s YouTube channel is now full of professionally mixed, mastered, and recorded live performances – you can watch this year’s NotLCB yourself! Write your own review! Send me an email and tell me how wrong I am because your viewing gave you other ideas! And be sure to head over to Launchpad’s Patreon page and say hello to their tip jar.